Stay away from Florida, rights groups warn as DeSantis passes tough new laws

Southern state now 'openly hostile' to some people, historic NAACP civil rights group says

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis holds up some of the bills he signed last week. AP
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Three US civil rights groups are warning black, Latino and LGBTQ Americans not to travel to Florida, where Governor Ron DeSantis last week signed new laws that critics say are creating a hostile climate in the Sunshine State.

Among those issuing travel advisories is the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People, established more than 100 years ago to push for civil rights for black people.

The travel advisory comes in direct response to Mr DeSantis's “aggressive attempts to erase black history and to restrict diversity, equity and inclusion programmes in Florida schools”, the NAACP said.

Their formal travel notice states: “Florida is openly hostile toward African Americans, people of colour and LGBTQ+ individuals.

“Before travelling to Florida, please understand that the state of Florida devalues and marginalises the contributions of, and the challenges faced by African Americans and other communities of colour.”

The NAACP was joined by the League of United Latin-American Citizens and Equality Florida, a gay rights advocacy group, in issuing travel advisories for the southern state, which relies heavily on tourism.

Mr DeSantis last week signed bills that ban gender-affirming care for minors, heavily regulate drag shows, restrict discussion of personal pronouns in schools, and force people to use male or female toilets according to their biological gender.

“Taken in their totality, Florida’s slate of laws and policies targeting basic freedoms and rights pose a serious risk to the health and safety of those travelling to the state,” Equality Florida said.

The governor is this week expected to announce his candidacy for the Republican Party nomination to run against President Joe Biden in 2024.

Along with Florida's Republican-majority statehouse, Mr DeSantis has also pushed for measures that ban state colleges from having programmes on diversity, equity and inclusion as well as critical race theory.

He also passed the Stop Woke Act that restricts certain race-based conversations and analysis in schools and businesses.

What is critical race theory?

What is critical race theory?

In its warning for Hispanic travellers considering a visit to Florida, Lulac cited a new law that prohibits local governments from providing money to organisations that issue identification cards to people in the country illegal and invalidates out-of-state driver’s licences held by undocumented immigrants, among other things.

The law also requires hospitals that accept Medicaid to include a citizenship question on intake forms, which critics have said is intended to dissuade immigrants living in the US illegally from seeking medical care.

“The actions taken by Governor DeSantis have created a shadow of fear within communities across the state,” said Lydia Medrano, Lulac vice president for the south-east region.

Florida is one of the most popular states in the US for tourists. More than 137.5 million tourists visited Florida last year, marking a return to pre-pandemic levels, according to Visit Florida, the state's tourism promotion agency.

Tourism supports 1.6 million full-time and part-time jobs, and visitors spent $98.8 billion in Florida in 2019, the last year figures are available.

Several of Florida's Democratic mayors were quick to say that their cities welcomed diversity and inclusion.

“Everyone is always welcome and will be treated with dignity and respect,” tweeted St Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch on Sunday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

Updated: May 22, 2023, 3:56 PM